Posts Tagged ‘airport’

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The Great Nyepi Escape

April 29, 2013

I usually enjoy Nyepi Day, Bali’s annual Day of Silence, when all are confined to their domiciles for 24 hours and no noise, work, fun, or illumination is permitted. It is an opportunity to reflect and allow the stillness to enter you.

Despite having honoured this day for the last  four years,  sequestered alone in my dwelling, this year the prospect was a little more daunting. A few minor technical hitches – such as a broken stove, a malfunctioning DVD player and no hot water – would have made the enforced isolation more unpleasant. OK, OK – I’m a wimp.

My brilliant solution of checking into a hotel with expansive grounds, where guests can wander around freely during Nyepi, came to naught. Bali’s hotel prices are just too high for me now. Expansive grounds come with an expensive tariff, and of course the Nyepi lock-down means you have to book two nights. As it turned out, going off the island – to Kuala Lumpur – ended up being cheaper for four nights at a hotel, including airfares, than staying in Bali.

So here I am in Malaysia. Ten minutes to get through the immigration formalities, an automatic, free visitors’ visa, luggage waiting for me on the carousel. A train station right in the terminal, and a 25 minute, 57 kilometre trip to KL Sentral on the KLIA express.

The KL traffic is busy, but free-flowing, with amazingly disciplined and courteous drivers. Drivers stop for pedestrians on crossings, they stop for red lights, they wait for traffic to clear before pulling out from the left, and they park properly. The streets are wide and clean and clearly signposted. I don’t see a single piece of trash on the footpaths.

It’s weird being in a place where everything just … works. The electricity stays on, water quality is good, places are open at their designated hours, and everything in my little hotel is as it should be. Well, most of it – my room’s air-conditioner control panel appears to be connected to a Bali-style ‘Wishful Thinking’ module, which in turn is connected to nothing. Like governments, I suspect it is there purely to give us all an illusion of control.

But no-one controls the weather, and at this time of year, there is rain. Lots of it. Regular as clockwork, the customary 4pm thunderstorm hits the city, often violently. Today’s is massive, with lightning striking every building around me every few seconds. I notice that all the smart birds are diving from the tops of tall buildings and taking refuge at street level. They don’t look happy, and they’re not smiling – but how can one tell? I mean, they have no lips …

I witness two hippy types, presumably with an IQ far lower than that of most of the birds, dancing in the rain on an 8th floor roof across the street. Faces upturned towards the continuous bolts of lightning, they wave their arms towards the raging skies as if in supplication to their gods. They are far closer to heaven than they ever imagine. But someone is looking after these dolts, and they fail to be vapourised in an incandescent ball of energy. I confess to feeling faintly disappointed.

While Bali is dark and silent for Nyepi, Kuala Lumpur is pumping. Checking out the restaurants, I find one called the White Raja. Ah, OK, Indian food. Then I look closer and notice that it’s actually called the White Raja – Borneo. Right, it appears that we have Kalimantan food with an Indian influence. Possibly with some traditional Dyak fare? Interesting. So I check the menu. It’s Italian.

Never mind. I find a basement under one of the plazas which is crammed with every imaginable type of food stall, each one serving delicious food. While English is widely spoken in KL, the locally-patronised food stand owners tend to stick to Bahasa Melayu – or Chinese, or dialects from the Middle East. Fortunately, even though they struggle to understand my Bahasa Indonesia (which is no surprise; people in Indonesia have the same problem) I can make myself understood.

I think I’ve worked out the secret. If I Anglicise every 5th word, add “lah” to every 3rd word and excitedly finish every sentence with “!”, they seem to understand me better. Or I could just stop torturing them and speak English …

After dinner, I find a footpath bar close to my hotel, and kick back with a wee drink while watching the passing parade. Suddenly, my ears are assailed with a strange, eclectic mix of Euro-Arabic-Latino-style music. Shortly thereafter, a figure materialises in the gloom of a doorway to one side. I see a hint of sinuous dance movements, a silhouette promising sensual delights, and a tantalising glimpse of a deep décolletage. And then the lighting improves, and an … apparition becomes visible.

He, because it definitely was a he, is about 190 cm tall and is dressed in a frilly, black, deeply low-cut top revealing astonishingly profuse chest hair, black leggings and a strange sort of fringed tutu. His dancing is a cross between belly dancing, erotic salsa, and pole dancing. Pelvic thrusts of an energy and amplitude that suggest a serious future back problem seem to hypnotise the rapt female patrons of the bar. The first unexpected thrust makes me inadvertently swallow one of the ice-cubes in my drink.

But that isn’t all. Every half-minute or so, he emits a shrieking ululation of a frequency and volume high enough to coagulate eyeballs for a one kilometre radius, as well as instantly kill any birds that have survived the earlier lightning storm. The first of these lifts me  completely of my chair, and I spill my drink. I discover later that this is a Zaghrouta – a traditional Iraqui cry of great joy.

My own joy is tempered somewhat when I try to go to sleep in my room later, only to discover that not only is his performance continuing, but the walls of the hotel are completely transparent to the sonic barrage. As I watch my bedroom walls tremble, their paint flaking off, and my bathroom fixtures fracture into shards of porcelain, I am struck with the thought that George Bush was looking for the wrong Weapons of Mass Destruction. The real ones were larynx-based, completely hidden and totally transportable all this time.

Zaghrouta aside, KL was a great short break from Bali. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the quality of infrastructure with that found in Indonesia, as the circumstances and mindsets are so different. It is amazing what a genuine pursuit of excellence can achieve – and of course, the will to improve things. It is a shame that some of those in power in Indonesia are so consumed with antipathy towards Malaysia. They could learn so much.

Will I come back for next Nyepi? Probably not. I sort of missed the silence.

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The Changing Of Lovina

April 18, 2013

Every so often one needs what my avian friend Hector refers to as a Short Essential Break.  These SEBs serve to reset perceptions, decompress from the daily chaos of South Bali, and just do some inspired blobbing.

My most recent sojourn was to Kalibukbuk, known to most as the central hub of Lovina – the generic name for a ten kilometre stretch of closely-spaced villages west of Singaraja. It’s a low-key place – which for me is its attraction – and it’s different enough from South Bali to make it either a pleasant stop-over or a destination in its own right.

Since my last trip there, things have changed a little. The sleepy little strip, with its super-low meal prices, its laid-back sellers of knick-knacks,  and its providers of friendly service at approachable prices seems to be starting to develop a ‘down-south’ mentality. Of course, I would expect prices to be higher than last time. After all, Lovina is not immune to the cost increases experienced by the rest of Bali. But the cancer of opportunistic greed seems to be creeping in here slowly and surely.

Local friends here blame the new North Bali airport – a pipe dream that will take a long time to be realised. Even the concept itself  is still in the dreaming phase, much less the realities of infrastructure development or transportation logistics. Yet the mere possibility of its future existence seems to have driven land prices through the roof, and created unreal expectations of a tourist bonanza (and its attendant opportunities for charging high prices) decades before the first tourist plane touches wheels to tarmac.

This attitude seems to have permeated the low-level hawker industry too. As I stroll around, an optimistic purveyor of coral gewgaws tries to sell me some trinkets, worth maybe fifteen thousand rupiah each, insisting that he never bargains, but sells only for fixed price. He tells me, “I will only sell for thirty, no less.” After bargaining for some time with ‘he-who-never-bargains’, the price drops to twenty each for five items. Still too high, so I start leaving. “Twenty each”, he insists, “but you can have one more for free.” I weaken, agree, he bags the merchandise and I pull out the negotiated 100,000 rupiah.

He looks at me with a mixture of disbelief and horror. “Where is the rest?”  I tell him that’s it. “What?” he says with just a hint of fake anger. “You agreed! $20 each for five!”  After I stop laughing, during which his stern facade slips only a little, I thank him for the entertainment and start leaving. He only lets me get a few metres before he acquiesces, grumbling, to the negotiated price – in rupiah. “Pelit”, he mutters as I leave. Yes, stingy I might be, but not yet that completely stupid as to fall for a bait-and-switch scam.

Kuta-style hawkers aside, the place has a relaxing ambience not found in the Deep South. That evening, I savour the quiet at my hotel’s beach-side bar, sipping a wee scotch and gazing over a sea, smooth as trowelled ant’s piss in the lambent evening light. No surf, no surfers – just a few fishermen knee-deep in the shallow waters two hundred metres from shore, bamboo rods held with casual patience. Glorious.

Next day, needing to rent a scooter to visit friends three or four kilometres away (and way too far to walk in my current state of sloth) I find a bike rental place, and discover that the previous day’s hopeful vendor is not an anomaly. After negotiating a ridiculously high price for a day’s rental down to something merely over-priced, I pay and get the keys. It’s 11 o’clock in the morning. “We close at 8pm. Please bring the bike back before then”, says the proprietor.

I explain that, no, I will bring it back at 11am the following day, because I rented it for a day. “Ahh”, says the nice lady, “You are from Legian.” I am nonplussed by the non-sequiteur. Seeing my confusion, she explains, “In Legian, a one day rental is for 24 hours. In Lovina, one day is 12 hours. So I leave, she calls me back, and grudgingly allows that, just for me, she will arrange for the earth’s rotation to be shifted back to a 24-hour cycle, but just this once.

Before she can change her mind about re-writing celestial mechanics, I take off, and immediately marvel at the handling of this little bike compared to my own. It feels as if the road consists of  a bed of lubricated ball-bearings. The steering responds like a startled cat on shabu-shabu, and the brakes are … well, hesitant. I stop and check the tyre pressures, which are unfortunately OK, which means the problem is more deep-seated. Never mind,  it adds a frisson of excitement to an otherwise quiet day, even though I feel like a rhinoceros strapped to an office chair that has been suddenly catapulted out into traffic. At least I have a helmet …

That night, I talk to some locals and expats, and discover that ‘Joger-style’ village greed has surfaced here too. (In the South, the Joger company chose to close down one of its outlets rather than bow to the endless and increasingly rapacious demands for money from nearby villages.)

Here in Lovina, the story goes that a developer in the final stages of construction of a high-class 8-villa complex has just been hit with an economic body blow. Just before its official launch, the local village has apparently demanded ‘village fees’ of 30 million per villa, per month, regardless of occupancy.  Interesting to see how that pans out – if true, 2.88 billion rupiah per annum would be a nice little windfall for the village – if the owner can avoid bankruptcy, that is.

I really hope that this bit of news is not true. Let’s hope it’s one of those legendary ‘misunderstandings’ which are so common here. It would be a shame for Lovina, and its future, if what appears to be an emerging hardness of spirit and Kuta-style opportunism kills the friendly and laid-back character of the place.

One wonders though, if it is the impending, though distant prospect of a North Bali airport that is causing this sea-change, or whether it is something deeper and more pervasive that is happening in Bali. I guess only time will tell.

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The ‘Express’ KITAS Renewal Process

May 20, 2012

Knowing that I could not travel for a few months, I grudgingly surrendered my passport and soon-to-be-expired KITAS to the Immigration office. Of course the usual raft of paperwork had to accompany this, including solemn written promises that I will employ Indonesian staff, that I will live in an approved tourist zone, and that I will not, under any circumstances, engage in gainful employment. Truth be told, I actually welcome this latter injunction, as it validates my choice to live a life of slothful drifting from one day to the next. In fact, I have no idea how I ever managed to fit work into my daily life before coming here.

As in previous years, I was a little worried about not having my travel documents while the tedious process of KITAS renewal dragged on for several months. One can’t travel at all without documents – not even within Indonesia, where ID is mandatory. The supposed 12-month KITAS which I pay for is not really usable for the whole year anyway. Not that that matters, because the essential Multiple Entry and Exit passport stamp is now only valid for eleven months, because the authorities have decided that they don’t like you travelling during the final month of your KITAS term …

Two years ago, it took two and a half months for the renewal process, because my documents were ‘lost’ – and then the official who had to sign off on them was ‘on leave’. Last year the process was incredibly protracted because the Immigration Office was being investigated by the anti-corruption people, during which time most of their normal work – glacially slow at the best of times – ground to a halt. Ironically, it was suggested to me that a ‘facilitation fee’ might speed up the process, but given the reasons for the low work output, I thought it best to decline.

This year, I planned, perhaps optimistically, for a eight-week turnaround. Naturally, only five days after feeding my entire legal identity into the maw of the Immigration Office, I found out at 9am on a Monday morning that I needed to travel urgently to Australia to help out a friend who had been incapacitated in an accident.

Luckily, I have an excellent agent, who immediately put in an urgent request for ‘express processing’. By 11am, I was in the Immigration Office being fingerprinted yet again, presumably because my fingerprints had changed in the intervening twelve months. I was told that processing would take about a day, so I couldn’t travel on Tuesday, but was assured that I could pick up my completed travel documents by noon on Wednesday. The nice official told me that it would be quite OK for me to book  a flight for Wednesday afternoon. The only flight I could get at short notice was via Jakarta, which meant that I had to be at the airport by 5pm on Wednesday. With Bali’s notorious traffic, I had to leave home by no later than 4pm.

But by noon on Wednesday, there is no sign of my passport or KITAS. I feign stoicism until 1pm, when I call my agent. She says my passport “is on its way and will be there this afternoon”. I begin to worry; “this afternoon” is a rubbery concept in Bali.

At 3pm, my rising stress levels making my voice rise an octave, I speak to my agent again. With insufferable calm, she says: “They’re still waiting for a signature at Imigrasi”. Ye gods. At 3:05pm, she tells me my documents will be arriving in 40 minutes. She also chooses  that moment to inform me that I need to bring 1.5 million with me for the express processing fee. Oh, wonderful. Three hours ago I discovered that my debit card has stopped working at all of the ATMs I tried, and I have just enough cash for the taxi, a humble snack and the obligatory departure tax.

At 3:45pm, not game enough to call the agent again because my voice is approaching ultrasonic frequencies, I hurtle over there on my bike. Praise be to The Great Squirrel! My passport and KITAS has just arrived! The agent apologises for the delay, explaining that, only that morning, a team of workmen had unexpectedly descended on the Immigration offices to perform ‘unscheduled maintenance’, which stopped all work. I am so speechless that I brush off her request for money and rush back home to call a taxi, finally departing for the airport, my stomach full of hydrochloric acid, a mere half an hour behind schedule. But I have my passport back!

On the way to the airport, I puzzle over my itinerary, which doesn’t tell me whether I leave from the domestic or the international terminal. The cab driver laughs. “If you transit in Jakarta, you go from domestic terminal”, he says assuredly. I am sceptical; after all, isn’t it a normal international flight with a stop-over? “No”, says the cabbie. “This is Indonesia. You go from the domestic terminal, because that way you have to pay 40,000 departure tax, and another 150,000 when you leave Jakarta.” He grins wickedly. “The government likes that.” Oh, of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

So, finally on the plane, I have time to think about how it is possible, for extra money, to get a two-day KITAS renewal instead of waiting for two months. And I realise why it normally takes that long for us normal schmucks to get one – because the full resources of the immigration department are engaged in making money from the express delivery set.

Some might think that it’s almost like a sort of, er, bribe. But when you need something done right now, and people have to make a special effort to make sure you get it – well, I reckon paying a fast-tracking facilitation fee is worth it. Despite the last-minute panic, it certainly was for me.

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When Security Sanctions Sabotage Smooth Sending

April 14, 2012

My guests have left;  the last minute rush to collect belongings before they head off to the airport is over, and peace once more descends upon the villa. All nooks and crannies where overlooked items might lurk have been reluctantly scrutinised by the temporarily-resident Teenager (as requested by his mother) and declared, “like, totally empty” by the exasperated youth, who appears to find the whole notion of double-checking to be completely redundant

“Are you sure you’ve checked that you have everything?” his mum asks, which is the trigger for the obligatory teenage eye-roll and an expressive and prolonged “Maaah-a-um!!!”, a wail which first descends, then rises in pitch. This is apparently teenage verbal shorthand for “I just can’t believe that I am fourteen years old and you still don’t trust me to do the right thing and you’re implying that I’m a moron who can’t do anything right and I can’t BELIEVE you’re picking on me like this!”

So it’s half an hour before my guests are due to fly out, and I’m quietly relaxing in the villa when the phone rings. Not my phone, mind you – The Teenager’s phone. It’s sitting on the table, vibrating and emitting all kinds of bright colours and complex sounds, as expensive smartphones are wont to do. “Yeah, I know, I left my phone. My bad. Anyway, it’s not my fault; it’s the same colour as your table.” Having established that the responsibility for his misplaced phone is purely mine because of my inconsiderate choice of furniture, he calmly requests that I nip over to the airport and return it.

My bemused explanation that he has already passed through passport control, and is actually in the departure lounge, and that his plane leaves in twenty minutes, and that it will take me thirty minutes to even get to the airport is met with disbelieving silence. He is massively disgruntled. I am philosophical – to me it’s just a phone; to him, it’s a digital lifeline to his friends. “And it has all my contacts!” he moans.

Next morning, I discover that his idea of ‘scrutinising’ his room at the villa does not extend to checking power-points, where the power supply for his mum’s computer is still plugged in. He apparently ‘borrowed’  it for a late-night Facebook session and ‘forgot’ to put it back. Sigh.

I stay philosophical. I would have been happy to eventually send the phone to him (after a suitable delay in the interests of a good dose of Adlerian consequential punishment), but I can’t leave his mother with a rapidly-depleting battery for her work laptop. I call DHL, the international courier service, who tell me to package the items securely and bring the parcel to their office. Fortunately, their branch office is only minutes away.

An hour later, after modifying a cardboard box, wrapping the bits and pieces in bubble-wrap, securing the box with gaffer tape, wrapping the whole shebang in brown paper and vast quantities of sticky tape, I present myself at the Legian DHL office.

“You have wrapped the parcel”, says the chap on the counter, frowning. I agree, I have wrapped the parcel. “You must open it now so we can see what is inside.” I stare at him. “But you told me to package it securely!” I protest. “Yes. Easier for you to carry”, is his response.

Fortunately, I don’t open it before telling him it contains a phone and power supply, which turn out to be items apparently equivalent to the devil’s spawn, and which can not be accepted by them under any circumstances. He explains that it has to be taken to their head office, for an exorcism, or “security checks”, or some-such nonsense. Head office happens to be located at the airport, in the cargo road side street off the main terminal road. I am rapidly losing my calm, philosophical demeanour.

Forty minutes later, having fought my way through traffic, I arrive at the aforementioned cargo road. But it is no longer open, being blocked off by a large set of  corrugated iron gates and various ominous-looking notices. Feeling a tad snarly, I ride into the forbidden area anyway, to be immediately surrounded by a phalanx of security guards who eye my little brown paper parcel with deep suspicion. I explain my mission, but they insist that I can not enter this area, even though my ultimate destination is only one hundred metres up the street, which is ‘closed’ despite being visibly open.

The guards wave me back the way I came. I request explicit directions to the DHL office, and their response is more arm-waving and an elliptical “follow the road”. Thanks guys, I’d figured that part out for myself. I am nothing if not resourceful.

So I follow the road and end up at the entrance to the airport itself, where an amused security chap tells me that I have missed a small gang off the main airport drive, which leads to the cargo road I am seeking. I tell him that I didn’t see any signs. “No, no – there are no signs!” he laughs. I feel like assuming a foetal position on my bike, rocking gently and sucking my thumb, but I resist the urge to be immature about this.

“How do people find businesses on the cargo road if there are no signs? I want DHL, but that’s where the main Immigration Office, all the cargo shippers and the police station are as well”, I whinge plaintively. He laughs again. “They don’t!” he says with a cackle. “They all end up here!” He then informs me that to get back to the invisible lane, I have to go back through Tuban and circle around for another attempt. I calculate that will take about twenty minutes, or forty if I miss the damn thing again. I go home instead.

On the way, I fulminate about the madness of an airport reconstruction project that is so chaotic and badly-planned that not only do people have to spend extra time navigating an incomprehensible, unsignposted traffic layout just to make their flights, but that makes surrounding businesses become almost inaccessible. I grizzle to myself about visitors who leave things behind in a place where simple problems morph into bigger problems while one is trying to fix them.

I conclude, bad-tempered, nasty person that I am, that I don’t really care that someone needs their phone or computer urgently, and resolve to send the forgotten bits in my own time, and only when I am good and ready. Besides, people are way too reliant on their computers anyway – let them suffer; why should I put myself out anyway?

So after a total of two hours in hot traffic, I finally get home – only to find that my laptop battery has inexplicably died, and my power supply is overheating. Oh no! My laptop! My life!

Karma can be a real bitch sometimes.

 

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Cruise Customers Climb, But Venal VOA Vexes Visitors

March 12, 2012

Bali’s cruise tourism market is showing signs of significant growth in the last decade. In 2002, the number of cruise ships arriving in Bali was 20. This year, it has hit 90 and rising. As usual, the hype surrounding this sector of the tourism market is relentlessly upbeat, focusing as it does on the expected flood of money into Bali, based on projections assuming untold thousands of free-spending passengers deliriously spending vast amounts of cash.

It would be wonderful if this was to actually happen, but the combination of appallingly bad planning, sub-standard construction, lack of proper cruise industry infrastructure, and the venality of the central government could well turn the hoped-for cruise bonanza into a pipe-dream. Another triumph of greed over practicality.

The much-vaunted Tanah Ampo International Cruise Terminal in Karangasem, East Bali has proved to be a massive embarrassment. Apart from being situated so far from the main tourist and shopping precinct in South Bali that a shopping trip is impossible during a 12-hour layover, it was not even designed or constructed properly. No-one seems to know why the pier, originally planned to be 308 metres long, mysteriously shrank to only 154 metres during the final construction phases – way too short to accommodate most cruise ships. And the attached passenger pontoon was of such shoddy construction that it disintegrated a few weeks after being built. One consequence was that in 2011, the Sun Princess, carrying 1,950 passengers, had to divert to Benoa because of the potentially dangerous disembarkation situation.

In February of this year, the  MV Aurora, carrying 2,800 passengers and crew, could not pick up its passengers after their day visit because the new, improved, ‘re-built’ pontoon collapsed again. Passengers were stranded on the pier for over 6 hours. The ‘International’ cruise terminal was not equipped to provide any food, water or shelter while an inevitable rainy-season storm drenched the unhappy passengers. This is not good PR, and needless to say, many visitors left with a very negative image of Bali.

But let’s assume that all these problems are miraculously fixed, and that cruise ship passengers are somehow presented with a truly professional experience at both of Bali’s main cruise ports of Tanah Ampo and Benoa. Would the expected economic benefits then manifest themselves? Will 2,000-odd passengers disembark in the morning and go on a massive spending spree for 8 hours before returning to ship-board life?

It doesn’t look like it. The data from the Benoa Port Office show that only 20% of passengers disembark for a typical one-day stop, and that they spend an average of $45 USD each. That’s not what you call big money. By comparison, Wellington, New Zealand, reports an average daily spend of $141 per day per passenger when in port, and a lot more people. Even Jamaica claims $90 USD. Of course, with cruise lines promoting a self-contained experience on-board, nobody expects all passengers to take the opportunity to make landfall, yet the number actually getting off the ship here, and their daily spend, seems very low.

I spent a day recently with a cruise ship passenger who arrived at Benoa at 6.30am. Because the Benoa pier is another one that is too short for major liners, passengers are brought to shore by ship’s tender, a process requiring advance booking and a lot of waiting. They are dropped off in an area which is confusing for first-time visitors, who are immediately surrounded by hordes of insistent taxi touts demanding outrageous fares for the relatively short trip to the shopping hot-spots. I had sent a driver to pick her up, but even so, pre-booked drivers were restricted to waving their signs from behind a high fence. From her description, the chaos in the port arrivals area made Denpasar airport look like Changi by comparison.

She said that few of her fellow passengers opted to come ashore, many baulking at paying the $25 USD Visa On Arrival fee. For 6 or 7 hours in Bali, it’s simply not worth it. The standard VOA is valid for 30 days. You can enter Bali for half-an-hour if you like, but you will pay the inflexible, one-size-fits-all visa fee of $25 USD. Why? Well, just look at the revenues. In the first nine months of last year, VOA fees for entry to Bali (mainly through the airport) amounted to more than $42 million USD. How much of that stays in Bali, to provide for tourism infrastructure? None of it. It all goes straight to Jakarta. Don’t expect cheap one-day cruise ship visas any time soon – I don’t believe Jakarta officials would sacrifice a single dollar of their VOA revenue to grow this sector of Bali’s tourism industry,  because there would be nothing in it for them.

Another passenger reports that on arriving back at the port for departure , a helpful chap offered to help him find his way back to the correct tender – for free! Naturally, he was delighted, until he was led to a small shack where yet another helpful chap (no doubt a cousin) relieved him of 150,000 rupiah ‘Departure Tax’ and took him to his boat. Only later did he realise that there is no ‘departure tax’ payable at ports …

Of course, back at the airport, the VOA scams are still alive and well. The officials who embezzled over $300,000 USD by misreporting $25, 30-day visa fees as $10, 10-day visas (and pocketing the difference) were rapped on the knuckles and sent back to work. The government’s solution to their corrupt behaviour was to charge us all $25 now, regardless of length of stay. Now reports are coming in of a new wrinkle, where tired passengers arriving after long-haul flight are told, “You are from Europe. You must pay 25 Euro.” Those who protest that it should be $25 USD are told, “That is only for Americans.”

Oh yes, there is the transit mess as well. If you think you are ‘transiting’ through Bali, say from Darwin to Kuala Lumpur, make sure that you have a ‘fly-through’ ticket. If you travel on a cheap point-to-point carrier, you actually have two journeys. On arrival at Bali, you will have to purchase a $25 VOA for your proposed one-hour stay in Bali, clear immigration, collect your bags, clear customs, exit the airport and walk 200 metres to the departures area, where you will have to check in, pay 150,000 departure tax, clear immigration and board your connecting flight. That’s if it hasn’t left during this lengthy process. That’s because you are not ‘transiting’, you are ‘transferring’, which involves a world of pain.

If you are genuinely ‘transiting’ – that is, your bags are checked through and you have a boarding pass for the second leg, you should be right. Just get off the plane and go to the transit lounge to wait for the connecting flight. However, rumour has it (unsubstantiated, I hasten to add) that the Bali transit lounge has been closed during airport renovations. If this is true, you will need to purchase a $25 VOA … get the picture? Just skip back one paragraph for the full saga if you need to be reminded.

Anyway, that’s the airport. We all know what a disaster area that is. But back to my main thread about the way cruise visitors are being treated – which is with an incredible lack of vision for the future. It is without a doubt, a potentially lucrative sector of the tourist industry for Bali. So why are the local authorities being so completely amateurish about growing it? Why didn’t they build a proper, professional-standard cruise terminal in East Bali? Why are they not lobbying Jakarta for the immediate introduction of a cheap one-day entry permit for cruise passengers?

Why do I even hope that things will ever change in the torturous labyrinth of Indonesian officialdom?

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Security Strictly By The Book At Denpasar Departures

March 3, 2012

Departing from Ngurah Rai, Bali’s International Airport, is always a quirky experience. Even more so now, with the passenger drop-off point having been shifted to a point five kilometres from the terminal. Well, it feels like it anyway. It’s now right in the middle of the gigantic and thoroughly disorganised car park. A long walk through jostling crowds brings me to the crowded international arrivals area, whereupon I have to walk another 200 metres to the departures section …

Never mind, I’m there now, and it’s only taken me 15 minutes to go through the congested first security screening post, fight some inebriated turkey for my carry-on bag (because he’s convinced it’s his), put my belt and shoes back on, and line up at the Garuda check-in counter.

A security person scrutinises my bags. “Any lighters in your suitcase?” he asks suspiciously.
“No”, I answer truthfully, because my lighter is in my hand luggage. He neglects to ask me about explosives, knives, guns, box cutters or tasers. That’s fine; I didn’t bring any on this trip anyway.

I pay my Departure Tax and start filling out my Indonesian Departure card. An Immigration official zeros in on me. “Wrong card to go back to Australia”, he declares. I explain that I am a KITAS holder, and that I do, in fact, need to fill out this card. He looks at me askance, then pounces on my passport and minutely examines my KITAS expiry date. It is in order. Then, he finds the separate Multiple Entry/Exit stamp and his face falls. “Ahh, it’s still OK”, he mutters. Still OK? Of course it’s still OK – it expires at the same time as my KITAS, doesn’t it? Wrong. I discover that the essential multiple entry stamp actually expires one month before my KITAS expires!

I have no idea why that is, and my puzzlement must be apparent. “Many people get caught!” says the officer. “But no problem – only small fee to fix …” Ahh, now I understand his zeal. I resolve to check my expiry dates more carefully during my next renewal. I also need to find out why the two supposedly linked permits are not date-synchronised. Another little trap uncovered.

As boarding time approaches, I head off to Gate 6, the designated departure gate for my Garuda flight. It’s completely deserted. Uh oh. There are no status boards and there have been no gate-change announcements either. A few anxious moments later, I am directed to Gate 8, where another bag scan takes place. Then, further on, another security checkpoint officer physically checks my carry-on bag. “Do you have a lighter in your bag?” he asks. “Yes, I do – I’ll put it in my pocket”, I say. See, I’ve done this before. I know that in Bali, you can’t take a lighter in your hand luggage. You are always told, “Put it in your pocket”, for some completely incomprehensible reason. Perhaps airlines think that burning a hole in your own lap is preferable to scorching their overhead lockers, although I have never heard of a lighter spontaneously igniting in either location.

But not this time. “No, you can not take your lighter. Not in handbag, not in pocket. New rules say that we must confiscate all lighters.” I reluctantly put my brand-new lighter in the proferred plastic bag which already contains perhaps a hundred lighters. No doubt they will be re-sold at the nearest warung.

So I wander off to the departure gate – and stop dead. The illuminated sign says Gate 8: Jetstar Flight JQ36. It is now five minutes to my scheduled boarding time, but the plane firmly glued to the aero-bridge is Jetstar’s, not Garuda’s. The first tendrils of panic start to curl through my intestines. “Umm, where is the Garuda flight?” I enquire. “Here”, says the gatekeeper, waving his hand towards the Jetstar plane. OK, it’s midnight, my brain isn’t working and I’m tired, but I can still tell the difference between aircraft livery, even at night.

The gate person looks at my baffled visage and relents. “Here, but later. In one hour. Jetstar flight is delayed. Blocking gate, so Garuda plane has to wait. Sorry.” Damn. I am specifically flying Garuda this time after my last rage-inducing experience with Jetstar, because it’s cheaper, cleaner, more comfortable and the service is light-years ahead of Jetstar. And here I am, still unable to get away from their operational problems even when flying with a different airline! I feel like I am being haunted.

Luckily, there is a smoking room in the departure area for addicts like me, and I head off for a consoling puff. Of course, I have no lighter. There is only one traveller – from Aceh – who has one, and he charitably allows everyone in the room to use his. I start thinking that maybe if I spin some pathetic yarn, I can somehow borrow my lighter back from the security checkpoint. I will even do it under armed guard if necessary. So I head back to the place where all the lighters have been confiscated. I am not overly optimistic, because, you know, security is security, but I’m willing to give it a go.

Explaining the flight delay, my desire for a cigarette and my need to borrow a lighter is easier than I anticipate. Without even blinking, the security man hands me my lighter and smiles. I think to myself, ‘but what about the new rules?’ He apparently reads my mind. “Rules say we must confiscate all lighters.” He grins. “But no rule about giving them back!”

I return to the smoking room. The Aceh man has disappeared. In the absence of Boy Scouts, desperate would-be smokers are rubbing sate sticks together to try to make fire. I brandish my lighter triumphantly, and explain how I got it. Five minutes later, every smoker in the departure lounge has their lighter back.

Ah, Bali – I just love your quirky rules!

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Australia Is So Like Bali Now

July 30, 2011

There was a time, not so long ago, where one looked forward to a short break away from Bali. Re-visiting Australia was once an opportunity to get away from the endemic chaos here, to experience first-world efficiencies, punctuality, reliability and good service. After a harrowing ten day trip to Melbourne, I’m here to tell you that those days are rapidly disappearing.

Apart from the freezing Winter weather, unbelievable prices and astonishing displays of road rage, Australia is becoming more like Bali every day. Well, not quite – in Australia, there is a surfeit of do-gooder-inspired over-regulation that assumes everyone is a complete imbecile in need of protection. That’s not a feature of Bali life. Yet.

The street signage is well up to the usual in absentia Bali standards. However, the authorities make up for it by providing thousands of speed limit signs, including those for ‘school zones’, which display a confusing mess of times and vague dates when the limit actually applies. Nobody but an airline pilot has the multi-tasking ability to decipher the damn things while driving, or the reflexes to avoid running over some errant kid while doing so.

Bureaucracies, both corporate and government, have become bloated and unresponsive, rarely getting things right the first time. Businesses, formerly bastions of efficiency, are happily following suit. Maybe that’s because everyone is too busy complying with Occupational Health and Safety directives to actually do any core business. Answering the phone too often might cause work-induced hearing loss. Or maybe no-one cares about pursuit of excellence any more. Either way, just like in Bali, it’s unusual now for things to run smoothly.

So, after failing to get a direct flight to Melbourne, I start my trip by boarding a midnight plane in Bali, which naturally leaves late. It’s not a cheap flight, costing nearly twice as much as the usual discount deals – yet there is not so much as a bottle of water on offer from the cabin crew. No breakfast either. It’s OK, I’ve heard that dehydration and hunger are good for the soul. I transit through Brisbane, where I have to lug my bags through customs, then make my bone-weary way to the domestic terminal. They do give me a train ticket to get there though. I’d hate to travel by low-cost carrier … oh wait, I did.

Once in Melbourne, the fun of helping my 89 year old mum through the rigours of a major house relocation begins. A mere 20 minutes on hold to the phone company gets me a nice chap who arranges the old phone to be cut off in six days time and reconnected at the new place. He assures me that everything is set. Two hours later, the phone gets disconnected, making it impossible to arrange all the other pressing details. It takes until mid-morning the next day before we get an active line again. I am reminded of Bali business practices.

The mail redirection goes just as smoothly. “Ooh, sorry, you need to give at least three business days notice …” We fix that problem through a convoluted ‘stop mail’ arrangement that apparently doesn’t need three business days notice.

We order a skip for the inevitable rubbish that has accumulated over fifty-five years of continuous home occupancy. “Ooh, sorry, you can’t put mattresses in there – they’re a health risk.” A health risk? No-one will be sleeping on them at the tip, for crying out loud! I call the local tip. “Yes, we take mattresses.” Great! “But there will be a $67 surcharge for each mattress. They’re a health risk”. I ask: “So how does paying this charge reduce the health risk?” Silence on the phone. I guess it must be like a carbon tax or something. That does nothing useful either. I think of Bali with nostalgia. Here, we just throw old mattresses in the river, and nobody gives a hoot.

To my dismay, I discover that Bali has exported the much-loved philosophy of jam karet (rubber time) to Australia. Companies promise to do something “between 8am and 2pm – barring unforeseen circumstances of course.” The rubbish skip, which would otherwise block access to the removalists’ truck, is meant to be taken away two full days before the move. It is finally collected, after numerous phone calls, 20 minutes before our enormous truck arrives. That’s cutting it fine.

Then there is customer ‘service’. The man from Bigpond is supposed to come “between 12 and 5” to hook up the new broadband service, which of course means he arrives at 5pm. He seems a bit surly when he finds out that under-floor cable installation will not work out. He finds the task of going via the ceiling and down a cavity wall too onerous. He decides to drill through a wall in an adjacent room and curtly says: “Here’s enough cable to reach the computer. Will he at least tack it to the skirting board? “No, I don’t do that. But here are some nails.” Can he check the computer to ensure we are on-line? “It’ll work”, he says as he hurriedly leaves. It doesn’t. Even Bali provides better service.

Bali-style opportunism is not unknown in the Antipodes either. We buy a new digital TV. The nice salesman tells my mum that his friend can deliver it for $50 and “do all that complex set-up required” for a mere $150 extra. I tell him that’s too expensive, and maybe we’ll buy the TV from another store. He hurriedly offers to do the ‘complex set-up’ for only $50. I decline. After delivery, we unpack the set and switch it on. It automatically sets itself up and is ready to go. I begin to suspect that Aussie companies do their in-service training in Indonesia.

And it’s not over even when I’m ready to go back home to Bali. A service station sells me a blister pack of Duracell batteries for my calibrated, accurate luggage scales. When I open the pack later, they are corroded beyond recognition. Caveat emptor. I get new batteries elsewhere and weigh my suitcase. It is exactly 22.1 kilograms, and under my limit. The airport check-in counter scales insist my bag weighs 24 kilos and I am told I have to pay $15 excess baggage. I ask when the airline’s scales were last calibrated, and receive the non-sequitur answer that it will cost $15. After some affable banter, I am permitted to remove items from the bag. I extract my obviously faulty scales, which weigh 225 grams. The check-in scales now show 23 kilos. How much money do airlines make from these capricious instruments? They always seem to read high – does anyone ever check them?

Finally on the flight itself, I ask for a bottle of fruit juice and offer a $5 note. “Ooh, sorry, credit card payments only.” My card is in my checked luggage. I opt to dehydrate. The flight attendant shows unexpected compassion and gives me a bottle of water for free. Everyone else has to pay. It’s obviously my lucky day.

So now I’m back in Bali, and the arriving culture shock is nowhere near as great as it used to be. The laissez-faire attitudes to time are identical in Australia now, as is the lax approach to service and the rampant opportunism. And the two container-loads of furniture I helped shift can be seen on a single motorbike in Legian any day of the week.

But the weather sure is better.